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A Loose End

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They had just finished their quick lunch and were going over his schedule for the rest of the day when she saw the doors to the elevator open out of the corner of her eye.

Her brow furrowed when she caught sight of three uniformed police officers making their way towards Oliver’s office. Dread whipped through her, a thousand different scenarios flying through her mind as to why they would be coming to Oliver’s office in the middle of the day.

As the men pushed their way into his main office, past her empty desk, she felt Oliver come to stand at her side. Diggle stood at attention by the door, his face betraying nothing, but his eyes cutting over to Oliver and her quickly.

The officer in charge headed straight for them, and she felt herself move a fraction of an inch in front of Oliver as if she could protect him from whatever was about to happen.

The officer with short cropped blonde hair eyed Oliver behind her before turning to address her, and she frowned.

“Felicity Smoak?”

At her hesitant nod, the man continued as the two other officers stepped up towards her. This time she felt Oliver react, moving so he was blocking the other two men from advancing, putting himself in between her and the officers.

“We need you to come down to the station to answer a few questions,” the blonde officer stated and she opened her mouth once but nothing came out as she stood shocked and confused in front of the three uniformed men.

Movement out of the corner of her eye caught her attention and she saw Diggle had crossed the floor and was now flanking Oliver.

“What’s this about?” Oliver’s deep voice cut through her suddenly foggy brain and she tried to focus on the men in front of her instead of the blood rushing through her ears.

The officer whose nametag read Denton spoke, eyes narrowing at the inquisition.

“This doesn’t concern you Mr. Queen,” he said, trying to offer Oliver a pleasant smile. “But we do have some important questions for Ms. Smoak and her possible involvement with the vigilante.”

Her lungs seemed to stop working as her vision tunnelled and she had to focus to keep her suddenly wobbly legs holding her upright.

She saw Oliver’s shoulders stiffen in front of her, “Anything that concerns Ms. Smoak, concerns me,” he ground out, his voice deeper than normal. “So I suggest you tell me what this is about.”

Officer Denton narrowed his eyes before nodding his head in acceptance as he began to explain.

“Dominic Alonzo was arrested last night after a raid of his underground casino operation,” Officer Denton began to explain, and she froze at the familiar name, her heart beat accelerating until she could barely hear the next words out of his mouth. “When we brought him in, he wanted to make a deal; said he could give us an accomplice to the vigilante. He stated the hooded man had come to his casino about six months ago and caused quite a bit of damage - and that he hadn’t come alone.”

Felicity could feel the tension radiating off Oliver, but the only tell that he was upset was the slight ticking of his jaw which she knew no one would notice unless they were looking hard enough.

“Alonzo picked Ms. Smoak’s picture out of line up of persons of interest in the vigilante’s case,” Denton continued, his eyes landing on Felicity.

She swallowed and started shaking her head. “I’m not an accomplice to anything,” she said in a shaky voice. “I…”

“You were picked up for questioning last year by Detective Lance, were you not?” Denton asked, flipping open the small notebook in his hand to check the name.

“Yes, but he let me go. It was a misunderstanding…” her voice trailed off, and she hated that it was trembling.

Denton eyed all three of them before settling his gaze back on Felicity. “That may be, but we still need you to come answer a few questions down at the station.”

The other officers moved forward again, but Oliver stepped up with Diggle at his side, blocking them once more. “Is Ms. Smoak under arrest?” he asked in an even tone, but Felicity could hear the fission of steel that ran through it.

Officer Denton sighed. “No, we have no proof to arrest her for anything. This is simply a follow up to the accusation made by Mr. Alonzo.”

“Then she will come of her own accord and I’ll have my lawyer meet us down at the station,” he stated, a dangerous tone entering his voice and if she could see his eyes, she knew they’d be flashing with warning.

“Mr. Queen, that isn’t necessary. This is just a routine questioning. We have to investigate Alonzo’s claim. Ms. Smoak is not under arrest, but we do need to ask her a few questions pertaining to that night,” Officer Denton tried to explain but she could tell Oliver was not going to be moved.

Her hand found Oliver’s arm, muscles corded and tight beneath the fine fabric of his dress coat.

“It’s fine,” she said softly, knowing that Oliver’s family lawyer showing up at the police station for her would only bring more questions. “I’ll go talk to them.”

Oliver spun on his heel to look at her, and she saw the mask drop and the concern and fear present in his blue eyes. Guilt flashed through them and she clasped his sleeve harder, wanting to be able to reassure him, but knowing she couldn’t with the audience they currently had.

“Mr. Queen,” she swallowed, the name sounding so out of place with the way he was looking at her, “I’m sure it’s all just a bit misunderstanding. I don’t even know what an underground casino is…”

She tried for a small wobbly smile but knew it fell short as Oliver’s eyes fell shut.

She watched in awe as the corded muscles in his neck tightened even more as he wrestled internally with his demons. Everything in her hated that this was happening. She was scared - terrified because Alonzo had seen her that night but they’d never thought through this contingency.

And this time, there was no Detective Lance to protect her.

Diggle stepped forward then, and she saw the flinty set in his eyes as he spoke, addressing the officers.

“How about we follow you to the station?” he offered. “That way when all of this is resolved as a misunderstanding, Ms. Smoak can return to work as soon as possible.”

Oliver’s eyes snapped open at Diggle’s offer and turned to the officers, straightening his shoulders and she knew he wasn’t going to accept any other suggestion.

“Yes, if you on insist on taking a valuable employee from me at a crucial time of the day, then the least you can do is make sure we can return to work immediately afterwards,” he added, staring down Officer Denton who seemed to shift on his feet as he considered the offer.

It took his a few moments, but finally he nodded his head. “Fine. But you follow us directly there.”

“Of course,” Diggle answered with a firm nod of his head.

Felicity felt herself relax a bit at the prospect of at least being able to go with Oliver and Diggle, although she hated the idea of possibly putting either of them at risk. If they did end up having proof - which she knew she’d gotten rid of all trace of them on the cameras that night - she would not let either of them take the fall with her. Oliver was doing good in this city. She wouldn’t be the cause of his downfall.

She didn’t realize she was still holding tightly to Oliver’s arm until he moved, covering her hand gently as he pried her fingers from their death grip. He gave her hand a soft squeeze before placing his hand on her back and leading her to the outer office where she kept her coat and purse.

The police officers crowded out ahead of her and she was thankful because the first step she took, her knees buckled beneath her and she stumbled slightly. Oliver’s arm banded about her back and grasped her hip, helping her right herself as she pressed her eyes shut momentarily to rein in her emotions.

“Hey, everything’s going to be okay,” Oliver murmured against her hair, both his hands now firmly grasping her hips to keep her upright, and she let the warmth of them seep into her before she nodded. Drawing in a deep breath, she took a step forward, thankful that this time her legs held.

Knowing she had to put on a confident front for the officers and everyone else in the offices, she plastered a calm smile on her face and squared her shoulders as she walked into the outer office.

Oliver grabbed her coat and held it out for her, his hands resting lightly on her shoulders once she slid her arms into the sleeves. Then he led her out of the office with a hand protectively hovering over her lower back.

Before they boarded the elevators, Diggle stepped up to speak with Officer Denton. After a few hushed words, Officer Denton nodded his head, but she didn’t miss the annoyed look that passed over his face.

Felicity frowned when the officers got into the waiting car and they followed, both Diggle and Oliver placing themselves between her and the other men.

When the car stopped, they exited first, Oliver’s hand once again falling to her lower back. Instead of heading for the front doors as they normally did, Diggle led them to the right and down the extra flight of stairs to the entrance to the underground parking garage.

When Felicity glanced back over her shoulder, she noticed that the police officers hadn’t followed.

She was about to open her mouth to ask why when Oliver shot her a look and shook his head causing her to clamp down on any questions for now.

It wasn’t until they were in the security of the car, Diggle in the driver’s seat and Oliver beside her that he spoke,

“I knew I should have put an arrow in Alonzo when I had the chance,” he growled, and Felicity reached over, grabbing his hand.

“It was my choice, Oliver. You didn’t want me going in there. And there was no reason to think that he would…” her words trailed off as a cold wave of fear crashed over her.

Oliver must have felt the sudden tremble that shook her entire body because he erased the space between them, leaning over so his face was inches from hers.

“Hey, they don’t have any proof. They have a criminals word against your own,” Oliver stated, tilting her chin up so her gaze met his. “I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”

The warmth of his words washed over her and her eyes slipped shut as she released a shuddering breath. She sank back into the leather of the seat, scrubbing her hands across her face, slipping beneath the rims of her glasses to press against her eyes.

“You have to stay out of this, Oliver,” she whispered tiredly. “If they found out about you because of me, I would never be able to live with myself.”

Warm calloused hands covered hers, pulling them away from her face as her eyes fluttered open, tears pressing against the backs of them, blurring her vision.

“I’m not letting you take the fall for me, Felicity,” he growled, his eyes flashing with so many different emotions she couldn’t keep track of them.

She let out a breath through her nose, and shook her head, her lips pressed firmly together ready to protest.

“I think you both are getting ahead of yourselves,” Diggle said from the front seat, his eyes glancing at them both through the rearview mirror. “They don’t have any proof, Felicity. The only reason they are bringing you in for questioning now is because Lance questioned you once before about the vigilante…”

“Lance,” Oliver said through gritted teeth and she could see his mind turning.

“I doubt he knows about any of this, Oliver,” Felicity said quickly, hearing the angry tone in his voice. “He told me after the Glades...after that night that he never put the record of my statements in the computer and he gave me the files that he had…”

His shoulders seemed to relax at her words and she smiled at the small truce and understanding that had been reached between the Arrow and Lance. Quentin had even started to give Oliver Queen a little bit of a break, coming to him when he was worried about his daughter. The more they worked with Lance, the more she could tell he was starting to believe in Oliver the way she did - to see that he was a hero.

When the car pulled to stop, Felicity’s head flew up, the earlier fear and trepidation crashing back into her as she looked up at the imposing building of the police station.

Her mouth went dry, and she swallowed, trying to calm her sudden erratic breathing. She knew she had to go in there as confident as possible. She could not show any weakness - any hesitation at all would give them room for suspicion and lead them to do more digging into her whereabouts and habits. More digging could lead them to find out that most of her nights were not spent in her apartment or with friends or family, but with the two men at her side.

Felicity would not let herself be Team Arrow’s demise.

She didn’t realize Oliver still held her hands in his until she felt slight pressure against her fingers as he leaned closer, his breath coasting over her neck leaving goosebumps in it’s wake.

“Just answer their questions and then we can go,” he told her softly. “We’ll be right outside,” he nodded to Digg who had turned to look at them and gave a silent downward slant of his head in agreement.

She gave them both a small smile, hoping it relayed her gratitude for having them here with her, but she knew in her heart there was no way she would bring them any farther into this if it things went south.

Felicity waited as Diggle exited the car and then opened the door on Oliver’s side. Steeling her nerves, she took one more deep breath, and then reached up to take Oliver’s outstretched hand.

With more confidence than she felt, she gave his fingers a soft squeeze and then dropped his hand before walking into the police station, both men at her side.

Officer Denton and the men who had come with him were waiting for her just inside the door and he led them up a floor on the elevator.

As they turned the corner after stepping out of the elevator, she was not prepared for the sight that greeted her. Across the room, talking in hushed tones stood Assistant District Attorney Adam Donner and, looking as polished and put together as ever, Laurel Lance.

Her step faltered briefly as Donner and Laurel glanced up at the approaching group.

As much as she wanted to look back at Oliver, she kept her gaze focused ahead of her even though she could feel the elevated tension that was rolling off Oliver in waves as soon as they’d rounded the corner.

Laurel’s eyes cut over her and then flicked behind her to where she knew Oliver flanked her on her right. She saw the slight furrow that wrinkled the otherwise smooth skin of her forehead as she tried to figure out why Oliver was standing behind Felicity.

“Ollie,” she finally said, taking a step forward, her lips pursed softly. “I didn’t expect you to come down here…”

Felicity knew the words weren’t meant to sting but they did. Felicity was nothing more than a QC employee to the outside world - even to Oliver’s family and friends. There was absolutely no reason for him to escort her to the police station. Briefly, she let herself wonder if there would ever be a time when she wouldn’t simply be Oliver’s trusty Executive Assistant to the outside world.

Then again, outside of the public eye, she knew him almost better than anybody. She knew the person he was behind the playboy turned business man persona; the one that struggled every day and night with the ghosts of his past and fought to overcome them to make this city a better place.

She knew the hero; the man. And she wouldn’t trade that for anything.

It was Oliver’s voice that brought her out of her straying thoughts and she felt the brush of his jacket against the back of her dress as he spoke. “Ms. Smoak is a valued employee as well as a friend. I wasn’t going to let her face this ridiculous accusation on her own.”

Felicity couldn’t stop the warmth that flooded through her at the word ‘friend.’ She’d heard Oliver use it in context towards her on one other occasion and although she wondered if they truly fit into the definition of the word ‘friend,’ it still gave her a rush of happiness at hearing him say it.

Laurel’s eyes seemed to harden and her lips remained pursed. “Ollie, Alonzo picked her picture from dozens, naming her as an accomplice to the vigilante.”

“I thought your manhunt for the vigilante was over?” he questioned, his tone becoming clipped with the tension that continued to grow.

ADA Donner spoke up, “Our efforts to find the vigilante have not stopped. He is still operating outside the law and, therefore, must be stopped.”

Felicity fought the urge to interrupt, wanting desperately to stand up for Oliver and the good he was doing in the city, but knew it would only hurt her in this situation. Her body must have tensed at the effort because she felt Oliver shift behind her, his front almost pressed completely against her back. She desperately wanted to be able to close the scant inches left between them and sink into the safety she knew she would find in his embrace.

“Which is why we need to talk to Ms. Smoak,” Donner continued, giving her a tight smile that left her feeling uneasy.

With an outstretched hand, he motioned her forward and into the small interrogation room. She forced her feet to move away from Oliver and Diggle, feeling bereft and alone as she stepped into the cold, grey room. She was closely followed by Donner, Laurel, and Officer Denton.

Just before the door shut behind them, her eyes flew up and locked with Oliver’s, catching the waves of guilt and anger that washed over his features.

Drawing up as much confidence as she could find within her, she gave him a small comforting smile before the door shut. She turned to find the three had taken their seats across the simple metal table, and were waiting for her to do the same.

 

Lowering herself into the uncomfortable chair, she sat as straight as possible, making sure to look each one in the eye as she clasped her hands together in her lap and waited.

“Ms. Smoak, we just have a few questions about the night of May 1, 2012,” Officer Denton stated, taking the lead as the Assistant District Attorney and Laurel observed in silence.

“Okay, I have no idea what I have to do with any of this,” she said, thankful that her voice didn’t crack. “I’m just an IT expert turned EA. I don’t even know what an underground casino is...and while I’ve played poker - thanks to my father, I don’t have any idea what a winning hand looks like. Although I guess I have seen enough westerns and all of the Ocean’s movies to know that a flush and a royal flush are good things.”

She clamped down on her lips when she realized she was rambling and shook her head to clear her thoughts. “You don’t want to know all that though.”

“Last May you were brought in for questioning about the vigilante, were you not, Ms. Smoak?” Denton asked, his expression giving away nothing.

Felicity swallowed. “Yes. But it was all a big misunderstanding. Detective Lance let me go, no charges were filed…” she said, looking to Laurel and seeing something flash through her eyes before it was carefully hidden.

“Unfortunately, we no longer have the records of that conversation, but maybe you tell us what you discussed?” Denton asked carefully.

Her palms were sweaty where they lay clasped in her lap, and she squeezed them together even tighter as she remembered her conversation with Detective Lance.

“He asked me about a hacking that had taken place at Merlyn Global,” she stated truthfully, something telling her that they would know if she was lying in this instance.

“And why did he bring you in for questioning, Ms. Smoak?” The ADA interjected, his eyes cutting over her in a sharp manner.

“I...I don’t really know. He seemed to think I was somehow linked to the vigilante and that I was working with him,” she said, wanting to keep it as close to the truth as possible, although, she knew they didn’t have the transcript from her interview with Lance. He’d given her the files and she’d been the one to destroy them.

“Were you?” Office Denton followed up, and it seemed as if all three people leaned forward in their seats, awaiting her answer.

She shook her head, “No!” she said forcefully, hating that she was adding to the piles of lies that were gathering at her feet.

“But you have had contact with the vigilante, have you not?” Donner asked, placing his hands on the table in front og them, “Didn’t he save you just a few weeks ago when a drug dealer called the Count was holding you hostage at your workplace?”

Felicity felt her stomach drop, her skin feeling clammy as a shudder passed through her, remembering that night. She hadn’t realized that they would question her about the Count or how Oliver had come to her rescue.

She swallowed, taking a deep breath. “Yes, he saved my life that night,” she said quietly. “I was working late in the office when the Count showed up, rambling about something to do with the Queens and getting what was coming to them...I don’t know how the Arrow knew to show up, but he did, and he saved my life.”

Felicity heard her voice break as the memories of that night crashed over her like a tidal wave of emotions. For a few seconds, she was back in Oliver’s office, tied to the chair. She could feel the Count’s hands tangling in her hair, and his whispered threats along her throat as he toyed with her until Oliver had shown up. Tears pricked at her eyes and she felt her nails dig into the skin of her palm as the nightmares that had plagued her in the weeks since then came flooding back to her.

A kleenex was pushed into her hand, and she glanced up in surprise to find Laurel giving her a sympathetic look.

She took the tissue with a small nod of thanks and dabbed her eyes, a few tears spilled down her cheeks.

“I’m sorry for bringing up painful memories, Ms. Smoak,” Officer Denton said in a softer voice, but he was cut off by the Donner, leaning over the table, his eyes watching her intently.

“So you see him as a hero then?” he asked curiously, and Felicity knew exactly what he was doing and her back straightened.

She tilted her head to the side, narrowing her own eyes. “As I recall, he’s saved your life too.”

Donner’s eyes widened in surprise as he sat back, and Felicity felt a surge of pride run through her at her ability to catch him off-guard. Her eyes then turned to Laurel. “He’s saved yours as well.”

She watches as Laurel froze, a small gasp of breath leaving her lips as she narrowed her eyes at Felicity. “He has,” she confessed, with a sharp nod of her head.

Felicity let her gaze move back to Donner who had seemingly recovered from his shock and was now staring at her with piqued interest he didn’t bother to hide.

“When he saved your lives? Was he a hero to you?” Felicity asked, moving her eyes between them.

Laurel dropped her gaze and she heard another breathy noise come from her mouth. Donner simply looked annoyed, but she saw the contrite set of his mouth.

Knowing she had their full attention, she used it to her advantage, knowing this was her chance to stick up for Oliver and what he did every night. She might not be able to tell them everything she believed about Oliver Queen, but she could give him this little bit of support that could go on whatever record they wanted.

“The Arrow saved my life that night,” she said evenly, her eyes never straying from Donner. “There is not a day that goes by that I’m not thankful for that. And it seems to me, that you should be thankful for that as well.”

Donner sat back with a slight huff and gritted his teeth while Felicity raised her chin, refusing to break eye contact until he did. She would not be cowed by him.

It was Officer Denton’s voice that finally drew her attention away.

“Mr. Alonzo stated that a woman matching your description came into his casino, started playing the tables, winning big and was found to be counting cards on the night of May, 1, 2013. Ms. Smoak, where were you on that night?”

“Oh, wow,” she shook her head, “That’s really specific,” she said, furrowing her brow as she pretended to try to remember. “Most of my nights after work are spent with friends or on my couch at home, although that’s a rarity anymore. Mr. Queen has late nights at the office,” she explained quickly at the raised eyebrows.

“So you don’t remember where you were that night?” Officer Denton questioned, seemingly not deterred from his task.

“No, oh, wait,” she exclaimed, digging in her pocket for her phone and entering her passcode. With quick, precise movements, she pulled up her calendar and glanced at the dates, glancing at the blank calendar, “I do remember that night,” she said softly and smiled. “I was...with a friend.”

Laurel titled her head to the side, studying her intently.

“This friend have a name?” She asked, and Felicity swallowed, knowing this was the part of the interview she’d been dreading the most. She didn’t have an alibi, and she wouldn’t use Oliver; she couldn’t put him any closer to this than he already was.

“Yes, but...it was a personal matter,” she stammered, biting down on her lower lip, knowing she had no name to give that would be able to corroborate her answer.

“Ms. Smoak,” Officer Denton said, making her look up at him, “It’s important that you give us a name so we can check your alibi.”

Taking a deep breath, she blinked and then shook her head. “I can’t.”

The man across from her sighed, and she felt the heavy stares from Laurel and Donner but refused to look at them. Her hands settled back into her lap, clasping her phone so tightly she wondered if it would break.

Laurel’s voice filled the room and Felicity turned her head to look at the beautiful woman across from her. “You do understand what Alonzo is accusing you of, right? If you don’t give the police an alibi…”

Felicity let her eyes fall shut, but shook her head resolutely.

A loud rap on the door broke the tense silence that had descended around them, and Laurel sighed as she stood, stepping over and throwing it open.

The sight of Quentin Lance in the doorway abated some of the uneasiness that had formed into a knot in the pit of her stomach, but it was the familiar figure of Oliver crowding in behind him that caused her to let out a breath, a relieved sob lodging in her throat. Quentin’s eyes met hers over the shoulders of his daughter, and he gave her a tight smile.

When her gaze locked with Oliver’s, she let her vision tunnel down to nothing but him, and before she could say anything, he had pushed into the room and come to stand beside her.

Felicity could feel the anger rolling off of him in waves and she wanted to reach out to him but she couldn’t make her arms move.

“It’s been an hour,” he almost growled, throwing glares at all three people who had been sitting opposite her.

“Ms. Smoak is refusing to tell us the name of the ‘friend’ she was with on the night of May first,” Officer Denton explained reluctantly with a sigh.

Oliver’s gaze fell to hers, brows furrowing as he asked her a silent question. She could see then and there that he didn’t understand why she hadn’t given them his name.

He was speaking before she could tell him no.

“She was with me,” he stated, keeping his eyes locked with hers for a second longer before looking back up at the people now staring at them.

Felicity heard Laurel gasp, while Quentin made a disgruntled noise, but all she could see was Oliver standing firmly beside her. He brought his hand up to lay across her back, the heat from his touch seeping into her chilled skin, bringing with it a feeling of comfort despite the raised eyebrows and accusatory gazes being thrown her way.

“Ms. Smoak?” Officer Denton asked after beat. “Is this true?”

Blinking her eyes, she looked up at the officer awaiting her reply.

She couldn’t refute it now, it would only raise more questions. It’s what she’d been trying to avoid in the first place. Felicity knew Oliver was trying to protect her; that his guilt for all of this was the reason he was offering himself as an alibi besides the fact that she had in fact been with him that night - only he had been his alter ego and they had been in that underground casino. For a brief moment, she wanted to laugh because they were trying to do the same thing for each other.

“Yes,” she finally answered, her shoulders sagging. “It’s true.”

“So the friend you were with that night was Mr. Queen,” Officer Denton clarified, and Felicity felt her cheeks flame hearing the implication in his tone.

“Oh, no, it wasn’t like that….I mean...we...we’re friends…” she tripped over her words, until she felt Oliver’s hand slide over her shoulder and give it a soft squeeze.

“Felicity was being a good friend that night,” he said calmly, her name slipping from his lips as easily as it always had, making her smile softly. “My sister told me that I needed to start talking to someone about my time on the island...Felicity has always been a good listener.”

His words had more of an effect on her than she was prepared for and she felt a small twinge of regret that that was another lie. She truly did wish he would open up to her about the island - to unburden some of that darkness he carried with him. She knew he was trying to protect her; that he was afraid she’d run if she knew everything. The look on his face after Sara had returned was burned into her memory - the haunted expression in his blue eyes as he told them that nothing good had happened for the entirety of that five years he spent away. One day, she hoped he would talk to her; let her in and let those parts of him out into the open so they couldn’t eat away at his soul anymore than they already had. He saw himself as a broken man, incapable of being repaired. What he didn’t understand was that she didn't want to repair him, she wanted to help him heal. She accepted him, broken pieces and all, and if she let herself be honest with herself, she could admit she cared about him as far more than just a friend.

Twisting her body so that only she could see him, she quirked an eyebrow, and for seconds that might have turned to minutes, they spoke without words, a battle of gazes and things unsaid.

His smile was almost tentative on his lips and she finally nodded her head, a warmth spread in her chest. She felt her stomach flip at the genuine gratitude she found staring back at her.

“Ollie?” Laurel’s voice broke into their quiet moment and she turned just in time to see the other woman giving Oliver a look of confusion and sadness. For a moment, she could see the regret in the other woman’s eyes at not being the one he chose to confide in, but it was fleeting and disappeared quickly.

Oliver’s hand tightened on her shoulder, and she knew he was fighting with emotions that ran deep within him. Laurel’s obvious hurt another thing he was adding to the list of things he felt he’d failed. But before he could say anything, Quentin Lance cleared his throat.

His eyes were trained on the her hands and she realized with a start that she still held the tissue in her left hand, now balled into an unrecognizable piece of lint.

It was Oliver’s deep inhale that had her eyes darting to his and she saw he’d followed Lance’s gaze and was now intently searching her face, and she knew the moment he saw that she’d been crying. A pained look crossed his face before his eyes darkened, his hand coming to rest at the nape of her neck, thumb running up and down the pale column of flesh leaving trails of heat in it’s wake.

Felicity sucked in a deep breath, trying to control the sparks Oliver’s touch were sending straight to her core.

“So is this interrogation over?” Lance asked abruptly before Oliver could saying anything, giving Felicity a sympathetic look. “I made the mistake of bringing Ms. Smoak in last year. She’s an upstanding citizen who doesn’t have anything besides a parking ticket to her name…

She blushed, the words spilling out before she could stop them. “And that was not my fault. I was late and someone parked in my spot. It was my first day at QC and they told me I could park there as long as I moved my car by noon. Well, when I came out at 11:30 on my lunch break, I already had a ticket and the officer who was writing a ticket for the car next to mine told me it would have been fine had I not been two inches over the line into the next parking zone. Two inches…”

It was Diggle who cleared his throat this time as he came to stand in the doorway, and Felicity cringed as she realized she’d just rambled in front of not only the Assistant DA, Oliver’s ex, Detective Lance and Officer Denton.

Cheeks flaming, she bit down on her bottom lip, and was thankful when Oliver held out his hand and helped her to his feet.

“We’re done here,” he stated, and she could hear the forced pleasantry in his voice, but it didn’t quite cover the undercurrent of barely restrained anger.

When she was standing in front of him, he leaned in, breath ghosting across the nape of her neck. “Breathe,” he whispered, and she realized she’d been holding her breath since her ramble.

Inhaling sharply, she glanced up at him to see a soft look in his eyes as he regarded her before turning back to ADA Donner who was now speaking.

“We get to decide when this questioning is over, Mr. Queen,” he stated evenly, straightening his suit as he stood. “And I’m not sure Ms. Smoak has answered all of our questions to our satisfaction.”

She could feel more than hear the growl that worked it’s way through Oliver’s chest. “If you had any proof, you would arrest her. As it is, it is her word against a known criminal. If you insist on dragging out this farce any longer, I’ll be forced to call in my lawyers who I’m sure will tell me that since you have no proof and no cause to hold her that she is free to go.”

Donner opened his mouth to reply, but then apparently thought better of it.

“Thank you for your time, Ms. Smoak. If we have any other questions, we’ll be in touch,” he stated with a wan smile.

Felicity nodded her head and let Oliver lead her out of the interrogation room, his hand falling to her lower back as they followed Diggle to the elevator.

Her fingers still clutched her phone in the palm of her hand as well as the ball of tissue in the other. She kept her distance from Oliver as he led her out of the building and to the waiting town car.

It wasn’t until the door closed firmly behind them that she released a shaky breath and her shoulders sagged.

Tears pricked at the back of her eyelids and she felt Oliver’s hands cover hers and gently pry the phone from her hand as well as the tissue.

The muffled curse that left his lips seconds later made her eyes fly open and glance down at her hands where he was staring. She was surprised to see little red moon crescents dug into the pale flesh of her palm.

Slowly, she flexed her fingers and hissed as the movement pulled at the injured skin. When Oliver cupped one of her hands in his, tracing over the marks in on her palm with his thumb, she gasped, and his gaze flew to hers. The deep blue of his eyes was a shade darker than normal, and all of his walls were down, letting her see the anger, concern, and guilt residing within him.

“I’m okay,” she whispered softly, trying to ease his worry.

She watched his adam’s apple bob as he swallowed thickly, his head falling forward as his eyes slipped shut.

“Hey,” she repeated, pulling her hand from his and resting her fingertips against his cheek. “I’m fine. It’s nothing…”

His eyes snapped open at her words, a fierce growl ripping from his throat. “It’s not nothing. This is my fault.”

The pain in his voice caused her chest to tighten and she leaned forward until their faces were inches apart, her forehead almost touching his. “No,” she stated evenly, making him look at her. “No, this was always my choice, remember?”

The furrow in his brow deepened, his eyes searching hers. She could see him fighting the war inside his head - battling back the guilt that always threatened to consume him. But she wouldn’t let him bear the weight of this one, she held his gaze until he finally and reluctantly nodded his head.

“Thanks for having my back, though,” she whispered, fingers lightly tracing through day old stubble.

His eyes slipped shut and she wondered what he would look like if she could do that with a little more pressure and follow it with her mouth and teeth.

The image sent a shudder through her and she knew he’d felt it by the way his eyes popped open and stared at her, pupils widening, the desire stark and threatening to overwhelm her.

The sound of Diggle loudly slamming his car door shut, and she pulled back, her head snapping to the front and seeing the raised eyebrow and knowing look he was giving them. Her cheeks heated and she quickly busied herself with fastening her seatbelt. After Oliver did the same, he reached across the expanse of leather between them and clasped her hand in his, lightly trailing over the torn bits of flesh as if his touch could take it all away.

The rest of the day flew by after returning to the office. Their unplanned trip to the police station left Felicity with a number of meetings to reschedule. Oliver barely made it to his three o’clock, the investors already waiting in the conference room when they arrived. HIs gaze lingered on hers for a moment, and she saw the worry still present in his blue eyes. She could tell he was still thinking about it despite her attempt in the car to put the encounter behind them. Knowing now was not the time or place to discuss it further, she gave him a smile, handed him the files he needed and shooed him towards the door.

By the end of the day, Felicity was exhausted. However, there was no time to rest. Her searches at the Foundry had found the information on the latest drug dealer in the hardest hit part of the Glades. She had little time to dwell on the happenings of the day as she kept tabs on Oliver and Diggle as they hunted down the dealer and left him to be picked up by the SCPD.

It wasn’t until they were shutting everything down for the night that everything seemed to catch up to her at once. Exhaustion swept through her swiftly, stifling a yawn halfway through the process of turning off her monitors.

Oliver stepped up behind her as she began to dig through her purse for her keys.

“Why don’t you let me drive you home?” he suggested softly, his hand sliding down her arm to cup her elbow.

She opened her mouth to refuse when another yawn escaped and she saw the look he was giving her and knew he wasn’t going to be moved.

“Okay,” she sighed tiredly, letting him take the keys from her hand and help her into her jacket.

The relief that flowed over his face was enough to let her know she’d made the right decision.

She noticed the look Diggle sent her as she let Oliver lead her towards the stairs and paused to give his arm a light squeeze, answering his unasked questions.

Her mind knew that the logistics of what they were doing didn’t add up. Oliver taking her home meant that he was without a car, but her brain was so full and tired from the events of the day that she didn’t dwell on it, knowing Oliver didn’t necessarily need a car to get around.

Either way, she knew Oliver wanted to talk to her. She’d seen the weight in his eyes whenever she caught him staring at her the rest of the day. Guilt was by far the most pronounced of all the emotions running through his heavy gaze and she knew they needed to talk about what had happened before he let that guilt eat away at him. As much as she’d told him in the car that this wasn’t his fault - that it had been her choice to go into Alonzo’s casino that night - she knew he was carrying the weight of what it might mean for her on his shoulders.

Diggle followed them out and waved goodnight as Oliver opened the passenger side door for her.

She sank into the seat and let her head fall back onto the headrest as soon as the door shut behind her.

Oliver climbing in on the other side barely registered until she felt him reaching across her to pull the seatbelt over her lap. The back of his hands brushing across her chest had her eyes flying open as she turned her head to regard him through sleepy eyes. He was staring back at her - a look so tired and worn on his own face that she couldn’t help reaching out and tracing the line of his furrowed brow with her forefinger and then letting it trail down the side of his face.

At her touch, he heaved a long breath, and she watched in awe as his eyes slid closed. She let her hand glide over the rest of his face, down his sculpted jaw to his shoulder and then his bicep, the warm solid muscle beneath sending a thrill through her body. When her hand reached his, she curled her fingers around his own and held on tight.

If possible, his shoulders seemed to sag even more and she knew he was letting the memories of the day catch up to him.

“Don’t,” she whispered, her voice more commanding than she expected. “Stop blaming yourself for everything, Oliver.”

His jaw tightened but said nothing. Lacing his fingers through hers, he started the engine and pulled away from the club.

The silence stretched between them as he drove, and she felt herself dozing as the streetlights passed by in a steady sequence. His hand was warm in hers and only once did she consider letting go so he could have both hands to drive. It was only later that she realized he had been holding her hand just as tight.

The car coming to a stop roused her, but it wasn’t until he released her hand to get out that she fully woke.

She had her door halfway open by the time he made it to her side and he offered her a hand which she gladly accepted, her mind counting back through the day remembering the other times this had happened.

They didn’t talk, and she didn’t question him when he led her up the stairs to her building and inside. By some silent communication, they had agreed to wait and do this now - at the end of the day. She wondered if it was the best time, considering how many boundaries seemed to be slipping between them. The day had worn away the walls they normally kept so carefully erected around themselves and their feelings for each other.

And when she pushed into her apartment, and he followed, closing and locking the door, she knew they’d left any and every facade, mask, and barriers in the hallway behind them.

She didn’t even bother to turn the lights on as she slipped out of her coat, hanging it on the rack by the door. Oliver followed suit, and she headed for the kitchen, pouring them both a glass of water before returning to the living room.

She found him, silhouetted by the lights of the city near the windows that looked down the street below. His large frame was accentuated in the dim light. The pullover he’d put on after his shower in the lair clung to his body, fitting snugly over the sinew and muscle, and she couldn’t help but stare at the remarkable image he made.

But the longer she watched him, the more she saw the little things a stranger would never notice. The heavy set of his shoulders; the way his head hung forward; the tense muscles corded along his neck and back; his hands balled into fists at his side. Every burden and shadow of his past clung to him in the darkness of her apartment. It was an heartbreaking sight, something that tore at her heart whenever she saw and felt the pain surrounding him as he was tormented by ghosts she couldn’t see.

Quietly, she kicked off her heels and set their drinks on the coffee table before padding over to him. His shoulders rose and fell with every deep breath that left his lungs, when she glanced up at his face she could tell he was a hundred miles away in his memories.

She paused a foot away from him, watching the profile of his face, desperately wanting to wrap her arms around his torso and let the darkness bleed into her so he didn’t have to carry it anymore. The intensity of her desire to see him free from guilt scared her at times. She knew it was a sign of how attached she’d let herself become to this man. To know she’d gladly take whatever pain she could and bear it for him.

Her eyes traveled down the slope of his shoulders and the contours of his sculpted arms to his hands that were clenched into fists at his sides.

Slowly, she reached out, fingers brushing over the tops of his knuckles before sweeping along his palm. She was surprised at how easily his hand opened at her touch, her fingers sliding until their hands were palm to palm, twined tightly together. A rush of air left his lungs as he squeeze her hand and she knew he was about to speak.

“I’m so sorry,” he breathed, and she heard the strained quality to his voice, like he was barely able to get the words out.

She frowned and stepped closer so her shoulder brushed his arm, their hands trapped between them.

“Oliver...” she sighed, her tone gentle and pleading.

She watched him swallow, felt his fingers contract around hers as he shook his head.

“I’ve always been so worried about keeping you safe from the psychopaths and criminals we hunt every night. I forget the risk I’m putting you in for even helping me in the first place. You’ve given up so much…I won’t let you lose your freedom because of me. The undercover missions have to stop...”

Before he could continue, she turned her body towards his, using her free hand to gently cup his cheek and turn his face. His eyes were open and honest, letting her see everything she wanted. He was hiding nothing from her and she felt the weight of the moment and what it meant that he was allowing her in like that.

“I already told you this was my choice,” she stated softly but firmly, her eyes searching his, begging him to hear what she was saying, “I chose to help you long before I knew how you spent your nights. I chose to stay and continue to help even after we brought Walter home. I chose to go into that underground casino that night knowing the risks. It’s my choice, Oliver. It’s always been my choice to stay. I choose to do this every night; to help you and Digg save this city. And I don’t regret it.”

She watched him after her words faded into the darkness of her apartment; watched as he wrestled with the words she spoke.

After a few minutes, he nodded, a whispered “Okay” breathed against her skin. “But if it ever becomes too much...if you ever change your mind.”

“I won’t,” she murmured, holding his gaze, “I know the risks. I don’t regret this. I don’t regret you coming into my life. I could never…”

Felicity let the words trail off, gasping for breath at what she left unspoken. The widening of his eyes, and the deep rise of his chest let her know she heard them even if she hadn’t said them aloud.

Instead of feeling embarrassed at her admission, she felt empowered and at ease. The honesty in his eyes letting her know her feelings weren’t unreciprocated. The day’s events had truly left their walls crumbled at their feet. Letting her eyes slip shut, she leaned her forehead against his bicep, listening to the comfortable silence around them.

His thumb brushed back and forth over her knuckles. After a few moments, he lifted their joined hands, pulling her body even closer to his in the process.

Rolling her head to the side, she opened her eyes to stare at their interwoven hands in the moonlight filtering through her windows. She imagined the picture they made, and a flutter erupted in her chest at their intimate pose; her hand still splayed gently against his cheek.

“I don’t deserve you,” he murmured before pressing a soft kiss against her fingers.

A strangled gasp left her lips and she stilled at the tendrils of heat that spiraled through her, warming her from her hands all the way to her feet.

Shifting, he released her fingers and she immediately felt the loss, but it was quickly eased when he brought his arm around her back, opening his body to her. His hand fell to her shoulder and tucked her against him. Felicity smiled and stepped further into his embrace, her head pillowed on his chest, just above his heart.

Her left hand trailed down over his stubble, along his neck, and came to rest against his collarbone tracing patterns into the soft material of his sweater.

With her head pressed against his chest, she could hear the accelerated rate of his heartbeat beneath her ear. Every subtle shift in their stances or movement of her fingers seemed to change it, and she knew she wasn’t the only one fighting for control of the emotions coursing through them. Every part of her had seemingly come to life at Oliver’s gentle touch.

The feel of his lips brushing against her forehead was almost more than she could take. Her body was thrumming with emotions she’d tried to hide behind a fortress of walls, but now that they’d been torn down, disarmed by the confessions of the night, she was barely able to keep her feelings from overflowing.

With each gentle caress and quietly spoken word, it was harder and harder for her to ignore what her heart had long know when it came to Oliver Queen.

His words from moments ago echoed in her mind, and she pulled her head away from his chest to study him in the dim light, surprised to find his penetrating gaze already directed at her.

“You deserve happiness, Oliver Queen,” she whispered, “Whatever that may be.”

It was as if her words broke his resolve because before she could blink, his face was inches from hers, foreheads touching, breaths mingling.

She gasped and involuntarily lifted slightly onto the balls of her feet, pushing herself up so her lips grazed over his.

A noise rose from the back of his throat and she opened her eyes just in time to see the truth spelled out for her in the emotions swirling behind an ocean of blue. Ever so slowly, Oliver closed the distance between them, his mouth meeting hers in a slow, languid kiss.

Her heart thrummed in her ears as his mouth moved over hers, and it wasn’t until she pushed up onto her toes, pressing herself into him even more that the kiss took on a different feel. Suddenly, his large hand on her back splayed out, fingers covering as much space as possible as it moved downward to settle at the hem of her shirt. One of her hands wove up and around his neck, diving into his hair and pulling him closer as she slipped her tongue out to taste his lips.

She felt his chest rumble beneath her as the hand not holding her against him, moved to the nape of her neck, long fingers filtering through the soft strands of hair and tugging the ponytail holder down until her blonde tresses were freed, cascading over her shoulders.

When he nibbled on her lower lip, she gasped and he swept his tongue into her mouth, pulling a moan from deep in her throat.

She arched her back, trying to get closer to him, the balls of her feet protesting the constant strain until she felt him lift her, taking most of her weight into him, and holding her against him as he continued to explore her mouth.

She only pulled away when she needed air, and her eyes fluttered open as she gasped for breath, his mouth still hovering centimeters from hers. Her heart fluttered at the dark desire-filled gaze that stared back at her, but beneath that desire she could see emotions she hadn’t dared let herself believe he might feel for her.

Before she could think, she pressed her lips to his again, both hands sliding around to splay against the sides of his face, her fingers trailing through the stubble as she’d imagined doing earlier that day in the car. Her lips followed her fingers, sliding from his mouth to his jaw, kissing and nipping a line to his ear.

The low gasping moan that fell from his lips when she found a particularly sensitive spot had her smiling against his skin. But before she could continue her trek of exploration, he cupped her cheeks and pulled her mouth back to his, kissing her hard and fast and leaving her absolutely breathless.

When they pulled back this time, she was gasping for breath and her head fell forward so that his lips brushed against her temple. His heavy pants against her skin made her shiver, as she let her fingers slip into the soft strands of his hair.

“You make me happy, Felicity,” he murmured into her skin, branding her with his words and his mouth at the same time.

Her lips curved upwards into a soft smile and she leaned forward, planting a kiss against his pulse point on his neck.

“Good. I was hoping you’d say that because you make me happy too,” she replied, and felt him lift his head to stare down at her in wonder.

“Stop,” she said, before he could put voice to the question she could see forming in his mind. “My choice remember? And I choose you. Always.”

Oliver’s eyes slipped shut, a large shuddering exhale leaving his lungs and she knew he was expelling those uncertainties that had filled his blue eyes at her words.

When he looked at her again, his eyes were lighter than before, but still held that spark of desire.

She smiled up at him, and happiness filled her when the corners of his mouth lifted into that beautiful grin that could light up a room.

Moving her fingers back to his mouth, she traced the upturn of his lips, heat spiralling through her when he pressed a heated kiss against the pads. When she trailed her hands back to his cheeks, he tugged her to him again, her head coming to rest against his shoulder and she tried to stifle the yawn that rose to her lips.

He heard it though and before she could protest, he lifted her, his arms curling her close to his body as he walked them back to her bedroom. The brief thought that he knew where that was without having to be told flew through her mind, but he was setting her down in front of her bed before she could dwell on it.

“Get some sleep,” he whispered against her forehead, pressing a light kiss against her skin before he turned to leave.

Her hand grabbed his before he could take more than a step away. “Where do you think you’re going?” she asked softly, and at his questioning gaze, she added, “Stay...It’s late…”

Felicity watched as his shoulders relaxed and he nodded.

She quickly retreated into the bathroom, pulling on an old t-shirt and boxer shorts and brushing her teeth. When she returned to her bedroom, she found Oliver sans shirt and jeans standing near the bed, waiting for her.

He waited until she had crawled under the covers before he slid in beside her. She curled on her side, and hesitated only a moment before reaching her hand behind her and finding his, pulling it up and against her chest. He shifted, curling his body around hers and let out a contented sigh, his breath coasting over her shoulder.

He pressed his mouth against her shoulder blade and she felt him smile. “Don’t think I don’t recognize this shirt,” he murmured, and Felicity stilled for a moment before relaxing, a sleepy chuckle escaping her lips.

“It makes me feel safe,” she replied and it was his turn to freeze, her words sinking in, before his arm around her tightened and pulled her flush against him as he buried his face against her hair, breathing deeply.

As she drifted off to sleep, his warm body wrapped around her, she knew there would always be dangerous missions and possible loose ends, but she’d never regret her choice. She’d never regret always loving him.